The Sugar Quill
Author: Suburban House Elf (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Sticking Broom  Chapter: Chapter 2: A Sporting Proposition
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Chapter 2: A Sporting Proposition


Chapter 2: A Sporting Proposition


The two students who sat in the small anteroom to Professor McGonagall’s bell tower office were both girls and both Gryffindors, but that was where the similarities ended.  The younger girl seemed very much at ease surrounded by bookshelves and scrolls.  She was no stranger to this room or the office of her teacher, as she had spent many hours here after her regular lessons, working on special assignments to extend her already advanced Transfigurations skills.  The older girl, much taller and more athletic than her fellow student, swung her legs and kicked at the bookshelf closest to her chair, as though any period of waiting, especially if it involved sitting silently and still, was beyond her.


“Skrewt’s spit!” the older girl muttered impatiently. “How much longer is she going to be?” The hands of the clock on the opposite wall swept around the clock face several times, stopping at the place which showed, “Even if she is running a little late, getting impatient will do you no good!”


“I think your appointment time was after mine,” Hermione Granger reminded the older girl cautiously.  Angelina Johnson was famous for her temper, but today Hermione didn’t care.  Hermione’s final O.W.L. examination, Arithmancy, had taken place that morning and she had promised her friends she would meet them at the lake for lunch.  So, even though she always enjoyed chatting with Professor McGonagall, she was unwilling to spend any more time in the professor’s office on this sunny day than she absolutely had to.


Mrs. Norris, the caretaker’s cat, darted out of the cat flap in Professor McGonagall’s door.  Shortly afterwards, Hogwart’s acting headmistress opened the door to invite Hermione Granger in.


“Thank you for your patience, dear,” Minerva McGonagall said as she moved two saucers of milk from her desktop. “Mrs. Norris doesn’t seem to appreciate that we humans need to schedule our time, but what she had to say was important.” She picked up some brightly coloured brochures from her desk and handed one of them to Hermione. “And what I have to say to you is important as well.”


Hermione glanced with curiosity at the leaflet that had been placed in her hands.  It bore the unmistakable red and white flowing script of the Brews-U-Like trademark.  A black and white wizard photo on the cover showed an implausibly attractive group of young witches and wizards frolicking on a beach, each holding a different bottle of a Brews-U-Like potion.  The prettiest, fairest witch took a swig from a Veelapop bottle and waved as several young wizards looked on adoringly.  Hermione sniffed disapprovingly.  Too many witches and wizards were relying on these mass produced, mass marketed potions these days.  She feared that her own generation might be the last to even learn how to concoct a brew. For this reason, Hermione was singularly unimpressed to read the banner at the foot of the frolicking photograph, which announced an international potions essay competition.


“What hypocrites!” Hermione said indignantly.


“What was that, Miss Granger?” Professor McGonagall asked as she settled into her chair.


“Well, the nerve of them,” Hermione explained as she read the brochure aloud,  “sponsoring a competition to encourage excellence in the study of potions and concoctions.  What they really want is to encourage the brainwashing of young people to buy their third rate brews. Honestly, what’s next? Vending machines in the common rooms?”


“What are vending machines?” asked Minerva McGonagall, genuinely confused.


“Nothing, Muggle contraptions, it doesn’t matter.  But really, who would want to associate their school’s name with that lot?” Hermione scoffed.


“Well, let me see,” Professor McGonagall said icily as she peered over her spectacles. “Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Durmstrang Institute, most of the Ministry of Magic’s comprehensive schools in England and a very old boarding school up here in the north known as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”


Hermione blushed deeply.  “I’m sorry Professor, I only meant -” she began.


“Your meaning was abundantly clear, Miss Granger,” the acting headmistress continued.  In a softer tone, she added, “My dear, you really do need to learn that at times it doesn’t serve your purpose to wear your heart on your sleeve.  All your noble causes, equal rights for elves, saving the Hippogriffs and what-not - as you get older you might have to accept that you can’t change the world simply by complaining loudly.  I’m not suggesting you should forsake all these high ideals, but you will need to take a more pragmatic approach.  You might even, Merlin forbid, have to compromise, when it’s in everybody’s best interests that you do so.”


Hermione knew that her favorite teacher was speaking the truth.  However, she also had an uncomfortable feeling that Professor McGonagall was about to ask her to put this good advice into action.  “Well, I suppose,” she admitted reluctantly, “if the contest is attracting such a high quality of contestant, the sponsorship isn’t that important.”


“Yes, and if a contestant of such high quality was willing to set aside her own scruples, her school would be very grateful if that contestant would compete,” Professor McGonagall said pointedly.


Hermione was not sure of her teacher’s meaning.  “The competition’s for seventh years, isn’t it?” she asked.


“The essay topic would suggest a seventh year level of knowledge, but I don’t believe it would be beyond you.  Neither does Professor Snape,” McGonagall replied, fixing her pupil with a determined stare. “Our only real concern was whether you’d be willing to put the good of the school first.  I think you would show a great deal of maturity, and leadership qualities, if you could.”


Now Professor McGonagall’s meaning was crystal clear.  Hermione had been mortified at the beginning of the year to learn that no fifth year students had been chosen as prefects.  In fact, being a fifth year prefect had become a rare honour. None had been named since Percy Weasley. What Hermione did not know was that the teaching staff of Hogwarts had universally agreed at the end of Percy’s reign that, to quote Severus Snape, “Three years was a long time to put up with that officious pillock.”  From that day forward, unless a student proved to be truly, amazingly, fabulously exceptional, everybody was just going to have to wait until sixth year to get his or her prefect badge.


A prefect badge was something that Hermione Granger craved.  Perhaps not as much as the downfall of the Dark Lord.  But she wanted to be a prefect very nearly as much as she wanted the end of elf slavery, or the quashing of anti-Muggle prejudices, even nearly as much as she wanted a tall, freckly fellow student to stop horsing around and pay her a bit more serious attention.  Professor McGonagall’s strategy had exactly the desired effect.  “I’ll give it a shot then,” said Hermione.


Out in the anteroom, Angelina Johnson was also reflecting on her life’s ambition.  She had never been an academically inclined student, but Angelina had captained Gryffindor through its first undefeated season in the history of Quidditch at Hogwarts.  Up until the Quidditch Cup final victory, the best Angelina could hope for was a job as a flying instructor at a Ministry-run comprehensive school.  Now, thanks to Rita Skeeter’s laudatory reporting of the game, she had in her school trunk a contract from the Holyhead Harpies.  She had a chance to play third reserve Chaser in the Great Britain Quidditch League!


Unfortunately, she was becoming worried that this dream was never destined to come true.  Angelina had turned eighteen last October, but the Directors of the Harpies Quidditch Club were all conservative matrons, who required parental consent for any of their recruits under the age of twenty-one.  Her father, unreasonable ghoul that he was, refused to sign her contract until Angelina passed her exams with at least six N.E.W.T. levels.  Angelina studied for her N.E.W.T.s harder than she had ever studied before, which unhappily was not saying very much.


But even her meager efforts as a scholar looked like they had been in vain.  For, as Angelina Johnson sat outside the acting headmistress’ office, the unpalatable truth was beginning to dawn on her. She was about to be expelled.  And it would all be the fault of that steaming pile of unicorn manure, Fred Weasley.


Angelina reflected unhappily that Fred and his idiot twin, George, had also been desperate to obtain half a dozen N.E.W.T. levels.  It had eventually occurred to those two numbskulls that the goblins in Gringotts would not lend money to a pair of dunces, no matter how diverting their plans for a joke shop might seem.  However, to improve their chances the twins had decided that a spot of “Gred and Forging” would be in order.


“Gred and Forging” was not an original prank by the Weasley twin’s standards. It was the same ruse played by identical twins the world over, ever since Ug decided it might be a good joke to put on Thug’s bear skin and trick his mum into giving him a second helping of mammoth.  However, the “Gred and Forging” that had taken place that May had not simply been to obtain another slice of carrot cake. Fred had pulled this off when they were four. It was not even to snog Angelina. Unbeknownst to Angelina, George had managed this, on a bet from his brother, when they were seventeen.  No, in May, “Gred and Forging” was required for a far more important purpose, because six N.E.W.T levels had been at stake.


N.E.W.T.s differed slightly from the tests set for younger students, in that there was a much greater emphasis on inter vivos examinations.  Wizards and witches from the Magical Educational Standards Board descended on the school en masse and quizzed Hogwarts students, individually and behind closed doors, on the depth of their magical knowledge. Fred and George Weasley realised that the only hope they would have was to divide and conquer, so they set about splitting their workload.  It was agreed that Fred would sit for Care of Magical Creatures, History of Magic and Muggle Studies twice.  George in the other hand would have a double helping of Transfigurations, Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts.  The plan was so elegantly simple that it was destined to fail from the start.


Actually, things did not begin to unravel until George’s (aka Fred’s) Transfigurations final.  George had made a fair attempt at transfiguring a toffee apple into a toucan, but the bird’s feathers had remained a little sticky.  While setting the toucan free out the classroom window, George found a number of brightly coloured feathers had become stuck to his hands and robes.  He then had to depart the exam room, quickly pick the sticky plumage off, and return as “Frederick Weasley” moments later. A bright red feather remained stuck to his right elbow.  The examiner, an aged witch with rheumy eyes, stared at him intently.  The examiner asked him to explain.  George stammered some story about bumping into his brother in the hallway, but the examiner’s face showed she believed none of it.  “Frederick Weasley’s” bird was even gooier than his brother’s, and it still had a stick.


The examiner reported the matter to the school.  Professor McGonagall acted swiftly and decisively, so that the Weasley twins barely had time to drink a bottle of Brews-U-Like Sneakypop (a popular truth serum antidote) before being hauled into the bell tower office. Naturally, the Transfiguration teacher was able to prove nothing, but a great deal of suspicion remained.  Fred and George both ran to Angelina afterwards, begging her to back up their alibi.  Which is why, thought Angelina, I’m sitting here about to be interrogated, without the benefit of Sneakypop, and then I’ll be expelled.  And I hope Fred and George Weasley get fed to an Acromantula for this.


Professor McGonagall’s door opened and Hermione Granger emerged with a leaflet in her hand, looking a little chastened.  From within the office, the acting headmistress’ voice called, “Come in, Angelina.”  To Angelina’s confusion, she sounded almost lighthearted, especially when she added, “I have a sporting proposition for you.”

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